Once again, it’s time to hear from our sister in Jerusalem about what she is witnessing there as a believer in Yeshua. Put your prayer shawls on and pray for Israel and Sister J. Now here she is …
Yesterday I was a witness to something that I must grow in my understanding of, but it was a unique window into a part of the Jewish world that many of you pray for: the ultra orthodox. The 93 year old spiritual leader of Israel’s Shas political party died. He had also been the Chief Sephardic Rabbi for many years. His name was Ovadia (meaning, servant of God) Yosef.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9)
“My father! My father!” were the cries that went up as passionate grief and sometimes hysteria rippled its way through gathering throngs of people. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a colorful, controversial figure considered by many to be a great Torah sage, perhaps the greatest of our generation, in spite of the fact that he was often mocked by the media for saying politically incorrect things and questionable statements. His words were constantly picked apart and quoted out of context, but now he was appearing bigger then life in his death.
He entered the hospital about a month ago with deteriorating health. Huge prayer meetings were called on his behalf as his health went up and down. He rallied several days ago, but yesterday he suddenly lapsed and family was called. The president of Israel was at his side when he died in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. At the time, the halls and area of the hospital were jammed with his followers.
Although I was watching the events unfold while at work on ynet internet news, I was not prepared for what happened next. It was a cultural departure from my westernized Jewish upbringing. He died around 1:30 and I went home at about 2:30. At 4:30 I heard lots of sirens and helicopters. I thought, it’s either a bomb (pigua) or Rabbi Ovadia’s funeral starting, so switched on the TV to see. I saw live coverage on every channel of the masses of mourners gathering and the footnotes said that the funeral would begin at 6 PM.
According to Jewish law, the funeral is to take place the same day, before sundown when possible. The bodies are not buried in coffins here, but in shrouds.
I had an appointment downtown at 6 PM so decided to leave early. However when I arrived at the train station I was surprised to see throngs of people walking silently but swiftly along the tracks, in the streets and sidewalks toward the center of town. I remembered former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral following his assassination, but this was totally spontaneous. A flashing sign at the station told me that train service was discontinued due to the expected crowds. It was soon obvious that there were also no buses getting through. Very shortly, neither were cars.
I went home and turned on the TV to get an overview of what was happening. At that point ½ million people were expected for the funeral and the security forces were gearing up for crowd control, but even they weren’t prepared for what happened. Now, you have to understand that our total population is 8,012,400 of which about 20% are Arab and at least 40% are children, so half a million pouring down the narrow ancient streets of Jerusalem to attend a funeral is a LOT of people.
It turned out that this was an underestimate. Soon the highway coming up into Jerusalem was completely blocked with walkers as people abandoned their cars on the sides of the road and began walking from many miles away. Inter city buses were stranded along with all commuters. EVERYTHING ground to a halt. Ambulances became hospitals as crushed or injured people were being treated in ambulances that could not get through to a hospital.
It is estimated today that upwards of 850,000 people packed the area around the cemetery. There are no estimates on how many failed to make it that far. Although the funeral was to take place at 6 PM, the body could not be moved through the crowd to its final resting place until 11:30 PM. There was a human surge, the likes of which I have never witnessed before in Jerusalem. I encourage you to examine some of the links and get an idea through photos or video. You can see them here, here and here.
Even these do not convey the intensity of the event.
What I watched were people grieving, beating their chests, and crying, “Abba! Why did you leave us alone?” My heart was wrenched and grieved for a people following mortal man as if he were a god. Many of the prayers had been prayed for this man’s life were prayed on the graves of the patriarchs or prophets or other idolized rabbis. As I watched, I prayed for the day to come when they will, with even deeper passion, weep for Him Who was pierced for them.
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem…” (Zechariah 12:10)
In THAT day their weeping will be turned to joy and they will no longer be left alone, just as you and I are not.
Yes, it was a powerfully emotional event we witnessed yesterday, the result of my people seeking for Truth in the darkness and finding the death which can not rend the grave.
Until next time, I send much love,